Wednesday, February 29, 2012


This afternoon, my husband and I went over to a realty company and leased a 1680 sq. ft. 4BR/4BA brick duplex about 10 blocks from my husband's office. I think we can squeeze all of the stuff from our current rental house into the duplex, but I'm not sure what we're going to do with all the stuff we have in the garage.

We have some concerns about noise issues, because we are going to be living in the campus bubble area AKA the party zone. My husband did do a late Saturday (?) drive-by and there weren't any noise issues, but a lot depends on who our immediate neighbors are going to be. We will have the second floor unit, which should reduce noise.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012


The house rental near the big urban park sounded very promising (spacious, lots of storage, garage), up until my husband heard from a previous renter that they'd had a copperhead snake on the patio, a tarantula on the front stoop and a number of scorpions. The previous renter loved that stuff and brought the tarantula to campus to show off. And at some point, his wife got bitten by a non-venomous snake while getting out of a car at night.

We just aren't cut out for dealing with creepy crawly Texas wildlife. It's going to have to be the brick duplex near campus.


We went to see Tintin at the $1 Tuesday showing. It was scarier than I expected and the fight scenes went on a bit, but visually very good. Here's one of my favorite lines from a pickpocket confessing to Interpol.

Pickpocket: I'm not a bad person! I'm a kleptomaniac!

House progress

Here's some of what's happening:
  • Yesterday evening, we all saw a remodeled 3BR/2.5BA 2100 sq. ft. 1940 Cape Cod in an older neighborhood. It's been FSBO for around $215k for a while. The condition of the exterior wasn't that great, but the interior had been tastefully remodeled and expanded. I had written the house off because certain things in the photos struck me as being very Home Depot, but it looks much nicer in person. We are getting closer to making it official with the house near campus, so this was a last fling to see if there wasn't something better out there. Unfortunately, it's one bedroom or office short of being a good fit for us. Oh, and the garage got turned into living space, and we really like having a garage. The Cape Cod was close, but not really a contender.
  • Later last night, my husband and I wrote up a sort of pre-contract for the sellers of the house near campus, saying we are willing to pay the agreed-upon price and pay for the roof, but that we want them to take care of the following repairs from the inspection report. We tried to keep it as safety and function oriented as possible. If they agree to all of our terms, we may still be somewhat pressed for time to take care of painting, etc. before we move in in late spring 2013.
  • I've made an appointment for us to sign a lease for a 1680 sq. ft. 4BR/4BA duplex later this week. It's about 10 blocks from my husband's office. We would live there from about June 2012 to June 2013, until we close on our house.
  • I just learned that a colleague of my husband has a house to rent. I'm familiar with the house--it's darling. It definitely has a garage and I think it's big enough we wouldn't need to pay for extra storage. It's far enough from campus that our morning schedule might be kind of a pain, unless we buy an inexpensive second car. We are clarifying the rent, square footage and number of bedrooms and baths. It is a very interesting option.

Sunday, February 26, 2012


Here's some of what's happening:
  • I hand-delivered a birthday invitation to our neighbors and will be sending the other 13 invitations to hand out to his classmates. Quite a few of D's classmates have siblings in C's class, which is nice for C.
  • The kids are into the show Prototype This.
  • I need to go see a house in the older neighborhood I watch. It's just under 2100 square feet and it has 3 (or 4) bedrooms and 2.5 baths. I originally found the Home Depot firesale renovation a bit off-putting, but after seeing the pink/purple bath, it doesn't look that bad. It's much older than the house we just inspected, though, so there are many more possible problems. They want $215k for it.
  • I was selling a neighbor and fellow house hunter on the large and very striking 1920s brick Tudor that I saw a few months ago.
  • This weekend, C was working on the supply list and draft instructions for a simple machine she is supposed to build for her science class. Good thing C is fairly handy and we have this stuff lying around.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Cake order

I've finally started planning D's 7th birthday party. Here's where we are:
  • I've booked an indoor moonbounce place for a Saturday evening.
  • Today, in consultation with D, I ordered a half sheet German chocolate cake that will hopefully say "Happy 7th Birthday D." The bakery lady said that the half sheet cake should serve 50, which is what we need to be ready for, however many people show up. That sounds like a lot, until you do the math and realize that we are inviting 14 families. It will be interesting to see how the head count turns out.
  • I need to price and order little fruit cups from Chik-fil-A's catering.
  • My husband and D need to print up color invitations to the families we are inviting.
  • On the day of the party, I need to have ready a cooler full of ice and drinks, as well as all other refreshments.
As far as hassle is concerned, this isn't that bad. I think the moonbounce portion will go well. I am less excited about the 45 minute "party" segment, as I wonder whether kids won't get restless after the 5 minutes it takes to eat a slice of cake and drink a juice bag. It's not that entertaining to watch another child open gifts. We will see.

House inspector

My husband and were following our house inspector around yesterday. This is the first time we've really had a chance to poke around the house. The inspection ran from 10 to about 2, including termite inspection, so we were starving by the end of it (afterwards we got guacamole and bean tostadas at Rosa's Tortilla Factory, plus a bag of fresh tortillas). We're expecting a 25-page report from our inspector, but here are some preliminary notes:
  • 90% of the house is quite OK. There are some very necessary but cheap electrical and HVAC fixes that need to happen, but it's an early 1990s house, so it's not that eccentric. Also, there's a wobbly stair rail. There's a lot of other penny ante stuff inside, but no hugely expensive urgent stuff. We need to figure out what we can reasonably ask the sellers to fix.
  • There don't seem to be any termites or carpenter ants, but the landscaping goes too close to the house and needs to be whacked back to 10" away from the siding. I also would like to remove a certain pine tree that isn't pretty and is leaning over the house.
  • It looks like the roof does need to be replaced, which changes the math on a lot of other stuff.
  • I didn't realize until today that pink is the design thread that runs through the entire house. The downstairs is painted in a pinkish white, there's bubblegum pink carpet on the stairs, the kitchen floor has tile with a bit of pink in the pattern, there's pink Formica on the kitchen countertops and backsplash, and the kitchen cabinets are ceramic with a pale pink flower design. OK!
  • It's a 2900 square foot house, two story, with kitchen/breakfast, dining, living room, small laundry room, powder room, first floor bed/bath suite and garage on the first floor. On the second floor, there's a cute office with built-in shelves and cabinets, a small bedroom/bath suite, and then the master bedroom/bath.
  • Today's worst news was the master bath, which is probably a major contributing factor to the fact that a year ago when it was on the market, nobody made an offer on the house. It is all carpeted in that pink that I mentioned earlier. Furthermore, the toilet room has a dark plum toilet and a dark plum bidet. Even my husband wants to get rid of the toilet and bidet. Then in the bath area, the shower, large jacuzzi bath and vanity are all done in a sort of fake dark cream/purple marble. They all look like they're carved out of blueberry cheesecake. It's hard to communicate what an eyesore it is. The bath is very close to being a deal killer, because I am well aware that this sort of large bathroom is just as expensive to remodel as a kitchen. Perhaps the only worse bathroom I've ever seen was a shiny black bathroom (with black tile and black fixtures) from a house of similar vintage in a Jim the Realtor video. Plain old white bathrooms are so much nicer. Heck, even a 1950s pink bathroom or mint green bathroom is better.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Greek work ethic

There's a big campus song and dance event that's been going on for much of the week. My neighbors report that one fraternity was practicing non-stop from 6PM to 10PM on a neighboring parking garage.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

What tattoo locations really mean

This article at Cracked is really funny and educational. Please share it with any young people you know who are in high-risk groups for getting tattoos.

Lost in Austen II

We finished up Lost in Austen last night. I could have a quibble here or there, but it was on the whole a very nice re-shuffling of Pride and Prejudice. We find out at the end how Lizzie has been doing in modern London and we deal with the problem of how Amanda (the Austen fan) copes with the fact that she has been living out Lizzie's role vis a vis Darcy, much to Amanda's own discomfiture. There are abundant plot twists. I'm a little bit bothered by wondering how nice a husband Darcy really would be (the movie doesn't really give him a chance to unbend and warm up in the way the book does), but on the whole, bravo! It's a very original treatment of familiar material.

I have one last piece of advice for anybody who finds themselves seeking romance inside a 19th century book: don't forget to bring along a 21st century obstetrician and a dentist.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Recorder dream

Just before I woke up this morning, I dreamed that I walked into a room of C's classmates playing Ode to Joy and that I needed to start playing Ode to Joy, too.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Fox on the roof

This afternoon, my neighbor pointed out to me a grey fox that was sitting on her chimney, with its bushy tail hanging down. Grey foxes, my husband had told me earlier, are great climbers. We are technically in the city, but only about 5 minutes' drive from real country. We get the occasional opossum, raccoon and grey fox in the neighborhood.

Housing news

Here's some of what's happening:
  • We have an inspector booked to look at the house we are looking at for later this week. Woo hoo!
  • I called up a local realty company that was advertising the duplex we like, but cheaper ($1200) and closer to campus. Unsurprisingly, those units are rented out already.
  • I suspect we need to lock down our 2012-2013 rental very soon.

Seen around campus

...leg warmers. Remember?

Monday, February 20, 2012


I asked C which of the March girls she likes best. C says Jo, because they have so much in common, except for the fact C doesn't want to be an author.


Now that C is a 4th grader, she is eligible for the University Interscholastic League's contests. UIL operates out of UT Austin. We would like C to do the number sense and the graphs/maps contest, but are not sure which slots she'll get--our school is doing this on a first come, first served basis.


I've just turned down the exciting opportunity to babysit twins with reflux for $75 for 9-hour days.

Texas t-shirts

Seen around campus: KEEP ABILENE BORING. The classic is KEEP AUSTIN WEIRD and I've also seen KEEP WACO WACO. There have to be some more variations on this.

Another student loan story

I was listening to Wednesday's Dave Ramsey show while doing some housework and I just listened to a call from a young woman with $80k in private student loans. She did not complete her degree in journalism and now does data entry for $30k a year, the most she's ever made. Her husband is unemployed.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Lost in Austen

We're enjoying the 2008 TV series Lost in Austen, which is about a rabid modern fan of Pride and Prejudice (Amanda Price) who finds herself living with the Bennets, while Elizabeth is loose in contemporary London. I took care not to read too much of the Wikipedia entry. Anyway, the idea is that Amanda, despite her best efforts, finds that with Elizabeth's absence and her own presence, the plot of the novel starts going haywire and the wrong people are starting to fall in love with each other. Also:
  • Despite her fanatical reading of Jane Austen, Amanda finds that she lacks important survival skills (dancing, sewing, etc.).
  • The younger Bennet sisters are surprisingly sweet.
  • What is Lizzie up to in 21st century London?
It's very promising, but I have to creep off for the embarrassing segments (for instance Amanda attempting to dance the quadrille with Darcy).

We haven't seen Mr. Collins yet, but it has often seemed to me that he and Mary are perfect for each other. Will Mr. Collins wind up with Mary?

Martinis after Mass

Here's some of what's been happening:
  • A married couple we know entered the Catholic Church today. We went to their confirmation and a Tridentine Mass at an inner city parish. It's a beautiful mid-century church with stained glass imported from Ireland. There were, naturally, at least a dozen women in mantillas (the church had a basket of them available). The priest was Vietnamese. The confirmation and Mass were quite long, but the kids made it through. There's a Latin-English missal and the Bible readings and the homily were in English.
  • After Mass, we went to a reception in the parish hall in the basement. We got to see lots of people we know, some from our usual parish, some from the college and our old pastor. There was wine (some champagne, too, I believe) and somebody brought out his mobile martini-making kit. "This is probably illegal in [name of city]" said an acquaintance.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Social whirl

This weekend has been unusually eventful socially. Here's some of what's happening:
  • Last night, we showed No Impact Man as our graduate movie. Very entertaining!
  • This morning (on podiatrist's recommendation), I bought my first pair of Birkenstocks. Choosing a size and adjusting the straps was tricky, but now they fit pretty much perfectly. I should have done this years ago.
  • Meanwhile, my husband and the kids were picking up a gift for a grad baby's 1st birthday (we got her a Little People zoo train). We all went to the party, which was elaborately Hungry Little Caterpillar-themed. It was so cute! There were multicolored gummy worms, a Hungry Little Caterpillar cake, caterpillar cookies, frosted watermelon cookies and food chosen to match the Hungry Little Caterpillar's diet in the story. It was adorable!
  • C is reading Little Women on her Kindle, after much resistance.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Little Women

Here's some of what's happening:
  • C has been giving Little Women a try.
  • C got a typing program from Jump Start and is working hard on it.
  • Our car was making funny noises and it's been in the shop since yesterday. Hopefully we'll get it back soon. I had to get to and from a parent-teacher conference by bus.
  • My husband and I visited our two finalist apartments on Wednesday. It's still a tough call. I've also found some other options.
  • My husband and I just finished watching The Dam Busters. It's got a couple distractingly iffy special effects, but what a movie! Not to give too much away, but I've never seen such a suspenseful treatment of solving technical problems.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Living Social

I just got an email coupon for catfishing for four.

I told this to the kids, who pointed out that it's somewhat unclear. Is this catfish fishing or cat fishing?

Monday, February 13, 2012

Valentine's prep

Here's some of what's happening:
  • The kids did their Valentine's Day cards tonight.
  • I'm to Lothlorien in the audiobook of Fellowship of the Ring that I listen to mostly on the treadmill at the gym.
  • My husband has been working on getting our LOTR movies onto my Kindle. The Kindle has been resisting the transplant (since it's our DVD and not from the Kindleverse), but I think he's finally got it. I've managed to watch about 42 minutes of the movie at the gym. In general, my gym-going has been pretty regular the past week.
  • We had history fair a few days ago. C was on duty weaving with the Daughters of Liberty during an American Revolution reenactment. She wore a borrowed colonial dress, an apron and a white mob cap and wove furiously while her colleagues sewed, embroidered and complained about British enormities. D and I had a chance to wander around ancient Egypt and tour the US Civil War (the Underground Railroad, Ft. Sumter, Clara Barton, the surrender, Lincoln's assassination, O Captain, My Captain) while C did performances every 20 minutes. During our trip on the Underground Railroad, D and the other little kids were so spooked by the slave hunters that they crawled under the bushes as far as they could get.
  • Somehow, a Revolutionary war uniform for D needs to materialize by early next week. At school, they've got a jacket for him and a tricorn hat and we ordered a flintlock cap gun for him, but he'll need other stuff, too.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Mamas, don't let your babies

I was just listening to Dave Ramsey's Wednesday show while hanging up laundry. The last caller I heard is newly married, with a degree in creative writing. He and his wife have $130,000 plus in student loans, some at 13 and 14% interest, and they make around $20k a year combined.

On the bright side, this will provide lots of life experience if he ever decides to write the great American novel.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

2 free visits

Unauthorized entry into sibling rooms is a sore point at our house. In response, D recently made a ticket for C that says, "Good for 2 free visits to D's room."

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Hungarian Dance

This morning before school, C was glued to My First Classical Music Book. It comes with a CD and you advance through the music tracks as you read through the book. I had to tear C away from the book. "I was looking forward to the Hungarian Dance!" she said.

Monday, February 6, 2012


I gave D my copy of Dwell. This morning the kids were building block imitations of some of the houses in the current issue. C is reading it now as part of her homework. I made her ask permission from D. D said, "As long as you bring it back by tomorrow."

Friday, February 3, 2012


We were supposed to run a board game club this afternoon and then show No Impact Man (very good!) this evening to the grad students, but I've been struggling with a cold for much of the week and have had a succession of bad nights, with last night being the worst. So we've had to cancel both things. Tomorrow we have two birthday parties to go to (one at a bowling alley, one with a family that does professional party organizing) and it's looking grim. However, if I have a good night tonight and nobody else gets sick, we may manage it.


The February 2012 issue of Country Living is CL's white issue and they have several home tours that are worth looking at. This is one of the white houses and it gives a pretty good idea of the issue and the techniques used, although I think the online photos underplay the drama of the dark wood and other dark neutral accents used in the houses. Anyway, in the houses featured, there's a very striking use of bright white walls and dark neutral accents (counters, floors, light fixtures, faucets). There's almost no color used in these photos, but in thinking of how to appropriate these ideas for myself, I find myself thinking that a traditional cobalt blue and/or a muted red would look really good in these settings. (The cobalt blue link goes to a Wikipedia page that has a dictionary of blues at the bottom--very useful.)

This afternoon, I received my copy of House Beautiful Blue: 350 Inspiring Ways to Decorate With Blue. I have a lot of blues among my household goods: Spode plates, Russian Gzhel', some Polish pottery, Japanese rice bowls, dish towels, a blue glass vase, a blue enamelware bowl, a blue IKEA tray with a white floral pattern, various plastic bric-a-brac etc. It's pretty cohesive, but I get the feeling that blue has to be carefully managed to prevent it from taking over and making everything chilly. I would not, for instance, purchase a blue sofa, but would stick to a dark brown leather sofa and maybe add blue pillows. I also think that the blue may need another color to warm it up. I have considered a blue-and-yellow color scheme (page down a bit until you get to the big blue hutch and golden wall paper), but it's not really me. My current thinking is to add in some soft red (like the red you see in Persian carpets). I also like this blanket from Pendleton, which at least in the online photo, does a good job of combining the sort of traditional blue and traditional red that I'm looking for.

I've also recently noticed that Amazon is actually a very good place for seeking design inspiration, even if you don't want to order things sight unseen. I've added a bunch of pillows in red velvet, red-and-white, blue jacquard and blue velvet, a blue glass Moroccan lantern and a very cute modern clear acrylic lamp to my cart. I don't know which items will survive, but it's a very convenient way to store ideas.

Thursday, February 2, 2012


Don't panic, everybody, but the property management guy has just informed us that they'll be doing an asbestos evaluation at our rental house next week.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Apartment hunting II

I've now seen six different apartments, one near the kids' school and five near campus. Here's the dilemma:
  • Option #1 is a 3BR/2BA nearly 1200 square foot apartment two blocks from the kids' school. It has an outdoor pool, an exercise room and a green courtyard suitable for play, biking and scootering. The closets are reasonably generous, but the kitchen is tiny and old. Rent is $1200.
  • Option #2 is a 4BR/4BA nearly 1700 square duplex unit about 10 blocks from my husband's office. It is walkable, but not super convenient. It is several blocks away from the grocery store and a couple blocks from a playground, but there are no amenities (pool, play area, gym, etc.). There are lots of small closets, a couple pantries, and a large kitchen. It feels very roomy. Rent is $1400.
For option #1, we would definitely need substantial storage for the stuff that won't fit in the apartment. For option #2, we could probably squeeze nearly all the stuff in our current 2000 sq. ft. house into the duplex (the garage is more problematic).

This is a tough call.